Monday, 25 May 2020

John Cumming RIP

Someone wrote that: No-one ever put up a statue of a critic; the same is assuredly true of jazz promoters. But if any deserves one it is sure the gentle avuncular figure of John Cumming, who died on May 17 at the age of 71.

I first came across John as the promoter of the Bracknell Jazz Festival - an annual event that I still think of as the ideal festival. (But then I never got to Appleby.) Set in the spacious grounds of South Hill Park, the main arena was a large marquee, but more intimate gigs took place in the Recital Room of the Hall. And of course there was the added attraction of Lol Coxhill as announcer, entr'acte soloist and narrator of the unforgettable Murder in the Air. There were relatively comfortable chairs in the Marquee, a good beer tent, and though the food offered was the usual festival stuff there was a large branch of Waitrose close by where you could buy salads, pies and the like. The campsite was fine, although one year we found ourselves close to John Stevens' tent and had our sleep disturbed by late night cornet playing. (He apologised to us in the morning!)
The programming was acute and adventurous; there might be a jazz rock band on the Friday night- Jan Hammer one year- but the cream of the UK and US scene were consistently featured, notably Trevor Watts' trio followed by Ornette Coleman's Prime Time one night. Trevor won on points. I first heard Sheila Jordan there but did not fully appreciate her genius- she should have been on in the Recital Room. That room did host a solo gig by Stan Tracey that was later issued on lp as 'Hello Old Adversary'- though there was nothing he could complain about - for once- in the room's piano. I hope my enduring love of the record has not been influenced by the fact that the back cover shows my balding head faintly discernible reflected in the mirror at the back of the room.

John moved on to running the Camden Jazz Week, including a gig where the Leicester (DMU) Bley Band ( a student band which featured Gavin Bryars and my friend Conrad Cork) opened for Carla's own band. She was very complimentary, and Conrad's alto was singled out for praise in Charles Fox's review.

He also worked for the short-lived and much-missed Contemporary Music Network tours which brought us Don Cherry  (with an ailing but still wonderful Ed Blackwell), the ICP (where I persuaded Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink to sign my copy of Dolphy's Last Date) Max Roach and George Russell among others.

Then he founded Serious Productions, running the London Jazz Festival. Will it continue this year?

He was knowledgable, unfailingly polite and helpful, and his organisational ability and deep love of jazz will be sorely missed.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Live jazz returns to New York City

For those of you not don't yet receive the weekly email from Spike Wilner- owner of Smalls and Mezzrow- here's the content of this week's newsletter. It's the best news I've heard in ages and it deserves support.

>>Dear Friends –

As we enter day 58 of quarantine it's becoming clear that some hard choices need to be made.  No need to mince words – New York City is a mess.  As I've said before, Covid is a world-wide issue but it's hit New York City particularly hard and especially its independent artists and art scene.  I've had a chance now to discuss the issue of the survival of jazz and jazz culture in New York with Wynton Marsalis.  Wynton runs the biggest not-for-profit jazz organization in the world and, needless to say, he's very concerned.  Wynton is not an alarmist but a pragmatic realist.  Speaking of clubs and venues, he told me in a recent phone conversation, "Some will not survive, others may but it depends on their flexibility and tenacity...we have to do whatever we can to survive."

I think of Smalls and Mezzrow, our tiny 70 seat jazz bunkers deep in Greenwich Village.  How can we survive?  With hostile landlords and very little government support, enormous rents and all the nightlife shut down, the subways closed early, the tourists gone.  It seems like everything is stacked against us as each month clicks by without revenue and bills mounting.  But there is this dormant jazz world laying in wait.  Musicians eager to play and a culture-starved population ready to listen and receive.  I believe it's just a matter of hanging on, hanging in there.  To survive we must be tenacious.

The SmallsLIVE Foundation is shaping up now several weeks after the launch of our site.  We are still working out the kinks but have had great receptivity.  I want to mention that if you have a login from the old site, it still works.  To become a supporting member and get access to our extensive (and incredible) archive, it's just a minimum of a $10 per year donation (all tax deductible).  We're also really excited to offer direct sponsorships to individual artist – by clicking the sponsor button on their profile page or on any event in the archive you can sponsor an individual artist directly and support the foundation mission

I am starting our "get the cats working again" fund, which will pay for one band per night to play at the club live.  The club will not be open to the public (and we can't be open until the city gives us the guidance as to how), but the band will be paid to play, the show will be live streamed, the show will go in the archive and (besides a packed house and hectic bar) it will be as before.  My goal is to get bands working again for pay and to get the Smalls schedule off the ground.  We're going to begin looking for sponsors who may want to cover several days or even a month.  If interested, please contact us at foundation@smallslive.com.

I hope that everyone is keeping a positive mind-set.  This has been a long haul and a difficult one for everyone.  Remember that Jazz is a life giver and a reason for getting out of bed.  My best wishes to all.<<


The original is here

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Covid-19 and live jazz

I've been involved with selling jazz music on lp and cd for more than 25 years, first in a shop and now by mail order. Like all jazz lovers I cherish many recordings which have touched my heart, engaged my brain and opened my ears to the rich variety of this important music and especially to magical performances I will always cherish.

But I've been listening to live jazz for more than twice as long and my memories of (I'm sorry if this sounds pretentious) epiphanic moments will never leave me.

A few examples:

  • The Bell Inn on Oxford Road in Reading marveling to the thrilling sound of Ken Colyer in the last number of the evening, waving his derby mute.
  • The magisterial sound of Coleman Hawkins leading a great band- Sweets Edison, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Woode and Jo Jones at Wembley Town Hall for a Jazz 625 recording.
  • Another Jazz 625 recording with Wes Montgomery - he had to play 3 intros to his ballad feature because of technical problems- and played 3 completely different one
  • Roland Kirk at Scott's sitting at the piano, propping up his manzello and playing a blues with a drone. Then handing out whistles so we could join in on Here comes the whistle man. 
  • Sheila Jordan at our little club in Leicester in a duo with Harvie S. The p a broke down so she told Harvie to turn off his bass amp and sang for us without any.
  • Evan Parker playing a soprano solo in Bread & Roses cafe under our bookshop Blackthorn Books so mesmerising  I had to remind myself to breathe.
  • Evan again in a duo with Dave Holland at the Vortex with Dave's lyricism leading the music in expected directions.
  • Howard Riley playing a superb solo gig at our club in Leicester
  • Alex Hawkins and Louis Moholo-Moholo- first in Leicester then in Derby, where Alex started playing Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and Louis- without missing a beat- took off his cap
  • Tony Levin's 70th birthday concert- with Aki Takase and Mujician- then playing blistering bebop with Peter King a week later.
All of this acts as preamble to the sorry state in which we currently find ourselves- jazz clubs closed, concerts cancelled. What's to be done to avoid withdrawal symptoms?

Some musicians and clubs are staging virtual gigs: there some details here: the downside being that they are live streams; they are not archived in any way. They confirm the famous Eric Dolphy remark. Later: Cafe Oto now has an archive, including a beautiful Alex Hawkins solo set- here
And I must mention drummer Spike Wells' website which contains many private recordings not available elsewhere, some sensitive writing on jazz...and sermons!

However there is an archive; I've mentioned it before but this is an apposite moment to remind you. 
Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village makes audio and video records of all their gigs (and there are often three gigs a night.) I believe they plan to add recordings of their sister club Mezzrow also.
The video is basic, alternating between 3 fixed cameras, and the audio is variable but always acceptable.  

The club features a very wide range of artists- some famous (in jazz terms at least): Kirk Lightsey, Tim Armacost, Chris Cheek, Joel Frahm, JD Allen, ....others you've probably not heard of: Stacy Dillard, Jon Elbaz, Matt Brewer, Mike Karn.... If you're more of a mainstream persuasion there are gigs by Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Rossano Sportiallo, Ken Peplowski, Harry Allen.

Smalls has an after hours set where some renowned musicians come to sit in and relax; the late Roy Hargrove was a regular, and I once caught Wynton Marsalis sitting in with Tim Armacost.

You can have access to the complete archive for $10 a month and the income from the archive is split between the club and the musicians.  

To get to Smalls click here.